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The Globe and Mail

School trustees put off decision on academies

'Programs of Choice' were proposed to boost enrolment by allowing students to specialize in things like sports or music.

Toronto District School Board/Toronto District School Board

A debate over gender-based education had the Toronto District School Board in knots Wednesday, and after a four-hour debate they asked staff for more research on a group of proposed private-school-like academies.

The decision left slim chances that the academies, which include a choir school, a sports school, an all-girls and an all-boys school, will open in the fall of 2011 as some parents had hoped.

They were proposed more than a year ago by Director of Education Chris Spence as part of a package of schools known as Programs of Choice, meant to help engage students and boost enrolment numbers at the cash-strapped school board.

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Trustees initially rejected a recommendation that staff conduct more research on the programs, but after a heated discussion decided they needed to know more about how the schools would be run, and what benefit they'd present to students.

"This is a way of studying an issue to death and what I find sad is we're are dealing with kids' lives here," said trustee John Hastings. "We need to be trying something different."

Gender-based education is not a new idea for the TDSB, which has an all-girls school, and a number of gender-based classrooms. The Toronto Catholic District School Board has four all-boys schools, and at least six all-girls schools. And it's a growing trend: The Calgary Board of Education will introduce an all-boys school next fall, and Edmonton's Catholic school board is considering opening two.

But the board's resources are already stretched thin, and the programs would require staffing and about $285,200 in startup costs, and draw about 20 teachers and staff from other schools.

"Every time I sit down at this board table another item that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars snuck in here and there and everywhere," said trustee Elizabeth Moyer.

Trustee Mari Rutka expressed concerns that single-gender schools promote stereotypes.

"I don't have a problem with bringing together students who like... science fiction and fart jokes, I do have a problem making an assumption that that student is a boy."

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She also cautioned the board to move slowly with the programs and conduct thorough consultations in light of the recent controversy ignited by a proposal for an Africentric High School. The idea was dropped because of objections from parents at Oakwood Collegiate, which would host the controversial high school, who said they weren't consulted.

Declining enrolment has left many TDSB schools operating below capacity with diminished resources. The Programs of Choice would operate within the unused space inside such schools, likely attracting more students and therefore more funding.

Staff's proposal would see a Boys' Leadership Academy opened at Calico Public School and The Elms Junior Middle School; a Girls' Leadership Academy at Highland Heights Junior Public School; a Sports and Wellness Academy at Carleton Village Junior/Senior Public School, James S. Bell Junior Middle School, Rene Gordon Elementary School, Donview Middle School and Shoreham Public School; and a Vocal Music Academy at Heather Heights Junior Public School and Ryerson Public School.

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